Ten days before the 1963 Daytona 500, during practice for the American Challenge sports car race, Marvin Panch flipped his 7.0-liter Ford/Maserati entering Turn 4. Within moments, drivers Tiny Lund, Ernie Gahan, and Bill Wimble, mechanic Jerry Raborn, and Firestone engineer Steve Petrasek reached the scene. After one effort failed, the men lifted the car so Lund could pull Panch to safety.
Injuries prevented Panch from racing in the 500 that year, and Lund got the seat.
Lund won four more Cup races on short tracks, but never again enjoyed the thrill of a major victory.
Even now, more than 58 years distant, it remains one of the most heartwarming stories in American motorsports.
It was February of 1963 when the giant of a man called Tiny starred in the most fantastical chapter in the history of the Daytona 500.
Dwayne “Tiny” Lund was 6-foot-5 and about 260 pounds when NASCAR arrived at Daytona International Speedway for Speed Weeks that year. The Iowa native and Korean War veteran had raced motorcycles, sprint cars, and midgets in the Midwest before coming South in the mid-1950s to try stock cars. As a sideline, he ran a fishing camp near his new hometown of Cross, South Carolina.
Fishing was good. Racing … well, not so much for the man popular for his good humor and playfulness. NASCAR icon Richard Petty called him “a big ol’ teddy bear; just a big kid joking around; he was always picking up people and shaking them around.” Former driver Tom Pistone called him “an overgrown baby and the softest-hearted person you’d ever meet.” The big guy was seldom without a smile or an innocent prank. His heart, all agreed, was as big as the rest of him.
And he was a good enough racer to support himself and his family into the early 1960s. It was a modest living—running the fish camp and grabbing occasional driver-for-hire rides—but his prospects for long-term stardom were slim. Almost penniless but desperate for something to race, Lund went down to Daytona Beach looking for work.
That’s when fate stepped in to change his life forever. It happened like this:
Ten days before the Daytona 500, during practice for the American Challenge sports car race, Marvin Panch flipped his 7.0-liter Ford/Maserati entering Turn 4. Within moments drivers Lund, Ernie Gahan and Bill Wimble, mechanic Jerry Raborn, and Firestone engineer Steve Petrasek reached the scene. After one effort failed, the men lifted the car so Lund could pull Panch to safety. The Daytona Beach resident and 1961 Daytona 500 winner suffered injuries and burns that immediately scratched him from the 500 entry list with Wood Brothers Racing.
“I remember quite a bit of (the accident),” Panch told Daytona Beach News-Journal columnist Ken Willis in 2013. (At 89, Panch died on New Year’s Eve of 2015; Willis remains an outstanding journalist in Daytona Beach). “Let me tell you, when you’re trapped in the car and can’t get out, everything I’d done bad in my life flashed in front of me. When someone tells you that, believe ’em because it’s true. Everything goes through your mind at a thousand miles an hour. It’s a bad feeling—it sure is.”
As for the rescue itself: “The car was upside-down and I couldn’t get out,” Panch recalled. (The upward-opening gullwing doors were jammed shut). “They lifted it just enough for me to start getting out, then the gas tank blew and they had to drop it. But I could hear Steve yelling, ‘He’s still kicking (meaning Panch was alive). They came back and lifted it again and Tiny grabbed me by the leg and pulled me out. It’s pretty obvious if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.” Later, the Carnegie Foundation honored the five rescuers with medals for heroism.
(FYI: In a recent conversation with Autoweek, team co-founder and Hall of Fame crew chief Leonard Wood expanded on the rescue. “Marvin told me later, he said, ‘I was just about ready to take a breath of flame to put myself out of my misery. I didn’t want to be burned alive.’ Right after that Tiny reached back in the car and pulled him out.”)
During his recovery Panch asked the Wood brothers to give Lund their car for the 500. “It was already my brother’s and my decision to use Tiny because we thought he was the best man available,” Leonard Wood said recently. “We used to race against him and he was one tough competitor.” (A couple of years ago the late Hall of Fame driver/owner Glen Wood said, “I asked Leonard, ‘Who would we not want to see on our bumper on the last lap of the 500?’ When he said Tiny Lund, that made up our minds for us.”)
Lund qualified fourth, was sixth in his 100-mile heat race, and started 12th. Knowing they couldn’t win on raw speed, the Woods gambled with an unorthodox strategy: go 500 miles on one set of Firestones and with one fewer fuel stop. Lund drafted the faster cars virtually all 200 laps, and was on fumes at his first career checkered. Close, indeed … but it was good enough to beat Fred Lorenzen and Ned Jarrett, both of whom had made late stops while leading. Lund led only 17 laps, including the final eight after Jarrett pitted from the lead at 192.
“Nobody had ever run 500 miles on one set of tires,” Wood explained. “I thought we could because I built my own spindles, ones that reduced tire roll. It was something of mine that nobody else had. It made the tires wear even all the way across the footprint. It didn’t wear the outside (edge) or the inside (edge) unevenly. Nobody else could have done what we did because they were wearing out their tires.
“And we weren’t changing tires, so our pit stops were quicker. Tiny drafted good; we did everything to keep him up in the draft. He went about 42 laps between our first and second stops. Then he went 42 between the next two. We kept doing that each time, a few laps more than everybody else. Once we got inside 40 to go, we knew we had enough fuel to finish … but Freddie and Ned didn’t. Of course, all that would have gone out the window if there had been a late caution. But that didn’t happen, and we won.”
If this were a G-rated Disney movie Lund would have ridden that storybook victory to a long and rewarding career. Granted, he won four more Cup races on short tracks, but never again enjoyed the thrill of a major victory. For reasons never fully understood, he got only a handful of decent rides after his 500 victory. He spent most of his last 11 years running his fish camp and making occasional one-offs in mediocre equipment.
His greatest success came in the lower-level Grand American series. Between 1968 and 1971 NASCAR held “pony car” races for Cougars, Camaros, Mustangs, Firebirds, Javelins, and Challengers. Lund won the 1968 title in Bud Moore-prepared Cougars and the 1970-1971 titles in Camaros with owner Ronnie Hopkins. Overall, he won 41 of the 109 events, most of them on short tracks that didn’t get Cup Series races. He won the renamed 1973 “Grand National East” championship with three poles and five victories (plus 11 top-5s and 15 top-10s) in 25 starts.
In a tragic irony, Lund wasn’t even supposed to be in the August 1975 Talladega 500 in which he died. Mostly retired from Cup for the previous few seasons, he accepted a one-off to drive the No. 26 Dodge from A.J. King in the 188-lap race. Lund didn’t qualify, but advanced when Grant Adcox withdrew after his crew chief died of a heart attack in the garage. After a week-long weather delay, Lund made only six laps before suffering fatal injuries in a massive backstretch accident. He was 45, and left a wife, Wanda, and son, Christopher.
But wait … there’s more
• Lund’s 1963 Daytona 500 victory was the first of five for Wood Brothers Racing in The Great American Race. The No. 21 Ford/Mercury team also won in 1968 with Cale Yarborough, 1972 with A.J. Foyt, 1976 with David Pearson, and 2011 with Trevor Bayne. Only Petty Enterprises (nine) and Hendrick Motorsports (eight) have more 500s.
• Current team co-owners Eddie and Len Wood were 10 and 6 when Lund gave the family its first Harley J. Earl Trophy. Eddie, now 69, distinctly remembers playing Monopoly with cousins while listening to the broadcast. Len, now 65, doesn’t remember exactly what he was doing that Sunday afternoon, but guesses he was probably playing with Tinker toys in the family home in Stuart, Virginia.
• In the fall of 1957, at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, a broken axle on Lund’s No. 80 Pontiac sent the left-rear tire into the grandstands. It hit two fans, injuring one and killing the other, W.R. Thomasson.
• One of many “Lund legends” recounts his April 1957 fight with Lee Petty on the stage during driver introductions before a Sunday race in Greensboro, N.C. He was holding his own against Lee, Richard, and Maurice Petty until wife/mother Elizabeth stormed the platform and cold-cocked Lund with her purse. It was later reported that in addition to Elizabeth’s personal items, the purse contained the family’s .38 caliber revolver. As for the race itself: Lee finished sixth and Lund 13th, both well behind winner Paul Goldsmith.
• Lund was born and reared in Harlan, Iowa, the same small town that Johnny Beauchamp left when he moved south to begin his NASCAR career in 1959. Beauchamp was thought to be the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500 winner until NASCAR ruled three days later that Lee Petty had actually won in a photo-finish.
• For more than 30 years, Lund held the world record for landing a striped bass from Lake Moultrie, part of the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in lower South Carolina. The fish was internationally certified in 1963 at 55 pounds, which was the number Lund chose for his race cars late in his career.
Be sure to check out more of Autoweek senior motorsports writer Al Pearce's stories of "first wins in NASCAR" including those behind-the-trophy tales of Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Ryan Blaney, Tony Stewart, David Ragan, and Ricky Rudd.